Worship. You talk a lot about it. You extol its virtues and preach its value, and it puts you on a spiritual high ground when you talk about its importance. Although you know it when you see it, and can tell when you feel it and experience it, it can be nebulous and mystical when you try to define it. For some, worshiping is simply closing your eyes, lifting your hands, and being really, really, really, earnest. For others, it is maintaining a standard of quality and order in following a liturgy. For still others, it is singing some songs, hearing some preaching and seeing a response to an altar call.
The fact that we can’t clearly define it doesn’t stop us from worshiping. That’s a good thing. God made us to worship Him. Innately recognizing the importance of worship, we naturally try our best to lead it in the right way. Many of us plan worship by attempting to reenact meaningful worship experiences that we’ve had in the past. You try to duplicate the same forms, orders, and techniques that you perceived were present in those experiences, as you try to duplicate your personal mountaintops of worship in the lives of others. Of course, this is very subjective.
I once worked with a pastor who grew up in a small rural church with an informal style of gospel music. During college he attended a large, formal downtown church. Because it was what he knew and liked, his ideal expectation for music in worship was informal gospel with a smattering of high church elements. By the time he became a pastor, he naturally assumed that his idea of worship was the way it was supposed to be.
All people can have their ideas about proper worship, but those ideas can be quite different as they come from different experiences. Unfortunately, people are prone to assume that their way is the right way.
The clearest instruction comes from Jesus as He tells us that we are to worship God in Spirit and in Truth. However, nowhere in the Bible is there any kind of directive as to style or proper practice. So we end up relying on our own unique mishmash of experiences, memories, and influences to form how we see worship. Often, we know what we like and we like what we know. This may come from our church experiences, camps, conferences, conventions, mission trips, individual worship and thought leaders who have impacted our lives, and churches and movements that we’ve come to admire from afar.
Think about your mishmash. Your background, experiences, memories and associated feelings, tradition or your reactions against tradition all influenced and shaped you. How have they formed your approach to leading worship? Do you unconsciously assume that others actually share these same memories and the good feelings associated with them? They don’t. Your good feelings and memories are important, and should not be discounted. You will never completely disassociate from them, nor should you. However, the worship you lead should not be based solely on your good feelings but also on what will bring the greatest benefit to the lives of those who you are leading.
Worship is not about your preferences, but about encountering the Living God. So the worship you lead should be designed to help people to encounter Him and not fulfill your preferences. The self-awareness of knowing yourself, and acknowledging your biases can help you to be more sensitive to the needs of others, and as a result be a better leader of them.